Posted Friday, November 16, 2018
Court awards damages following works in adjacent property

Once a property is damaged due to works that are taking place in the property adjacent to it, then the owner of that property is to pay for all the damages caused. This was held by Madame Justice Anna Felice in Edward sive Eddie Sciberras -v- Joseph Satariano on 6 November 2018.

In his application, the plaintiff, Sciberras explained that he owns a property in Hal Balzan and the defendant owned another property behind his. In this property works were being carried out and caused damages to his property.

Although the defendant agreed that he had caused the damages, he failed to pay. The plaintiff asked the court to order the defendant to pay for these damages, which at the time amounted to LM6,097.

Satariano filed a statement of defence saying that he has no judicial relations with the plaintiff and therefore, should not form part of the lawsuit. He also claimed that he did not cause any damage to the plaintiff’s property and therefore, does not owe anything.

The evidence showed that the plaintiff was informed by the neighbours that the house behind his was going to be developed. Therefore, he asked the developer’s architect and insurance to inspect the premises before the works started. He also testified that on one occasion his bedroom shook.

His architect then drew up a report when the damages appeared and wrote “repeated shocks and strong vibrations together with some possible localised ground movement.” The plaintiff then spoke to the defendant, who assured him that the insurance would make good, however, when he was faced with the bill he said he would not pay.

The Court had delivered a preliminary judgement on the plea whether the defendant is the correct party to this action, since the defendant held that the development was being made by Balzan Homes Ltd. and not by him personally.  This plea was turned down since he never showed that he was speaking on behalf of the company.

With regard to the question on the responsibility of the defendant the Court made reference to Articles 1031,1032 (1) and 1037 of the Civil Court. The last article states that whoever carries out works due duty bound to remedy any damages caused.

The Court went through the plaintiff’s reports drawn up before and after the works. On the other hand, the defendant’s architect stated that the damages were not caused by his client because the plaintiff’s house is old and not in a good state. The Court commented that the defendant’s version was weakened by his architect who did not deny that the project could have caused the damages.

The insurance’s architect told the court that it did not do a condition report in the plaintiff’s house in August 2005 because he thought it was vacant, but then saw the property in September.

The next inspection took place in February 2006, after the excavation works and the damages occurred. The report identified damages to the walls, tiles in the bathroom, yard and kitchen. The architect conceded that there were cracks on the walls before works commenced, but these increased in size. The remedial works had to take place after the excavations were ready.

The defendant claimed that the bill presented to him was inflated and said that there was a possibility that his workmen caused some damage.

As regard to general principles of the law, Madame Justice Felice quoted from previous judgments such as Emanuel Agius -v- Emanuel Mifsud of 28 April 2005, which said that although a property may be old, the damages caused were due to the works next door.

In another judgement Vincent Fenech -v- Keyland co Ltd of 30 October 2009, the Court held that the responsibility of damages is not automatic but must be proved. Notwithstanding this it is a known fact that excavation causes these types of damages.

The Court concluded that once the damages were caused, the contractors who carried out the excavations were not competent in their job and therefore, should be responsible according to Article 1037 of the Civil Code.

As a result the €14,668 is due and the Court ordered that this must be paid to the plaintiff.

Dr Malcolm Mifsud

Partner
Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates
 
This article may also be accessed on Malta Today 
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